Jewish

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Commuters on subway on June 28, 2012 in New York City. pio3 / Shutterstock.com

American Jews say they face discrimination in the U.S., but they see Muslims, gays, and blacks facing far more.

This and other findings from the recently released Pew Research Center’s landmark study on Jewish Americans help make the case that Jews — once unwelcome in many a neighborhood, universitym, and golf club — now find themselves an accepted minority.

“While there are still issues, American Jews live in a country where they feel they are full citizens,” said Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which was founded in 1913 to combat anti-Semitism.

Ted Sherman 10-11-2013

Yeshiva Shaarei Torah of Rockland on 91 West Carlton Road in Suffern, NY. Photo via RNS, by Tim Farrell/courtesy The Star-Ledger

In a bizarre case involving threats of kidnapping, beatings, and physical torture — including the use of an electric cattle prod — two rabbis were charged in New Jersey in a scheme to force men to grant their wives religious divorces.

Two others were also charged in the case, which grew out of an undercover sting operation involving a female FBI agent who posed as a member of the Orthodox community seeking a divorce.

As many as six others may also be charged, officials said.

Children from Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., under the sign for Spalsh! Kid's Camp. Photo via RNS/courtesy Betsy LaVela

At an interfaith summer camp in northern New Jersey, two dozen children explored a swamp to learn how creatures depend on safe water.

In Southern California, a Unitarian Universalist congregation installed a dry well so water from its church rooftops drains into underground pipes to replenish the water table.

In Vermont, members of a Lutheran church removed cars and appliances that had been dumped in a nearby stream and restored its banks with local willows and oaks.

Across the country, water has become more than a ritual element used in Christian baptismal rites or in Jewish and Muslim cleansing ceremonies. It has become a focus for worshippers seeking to go beyond water’s ritual symbolism and think more deeply about their relationship to this life-giving resource.

RNS photo by Michele Chabin

Women praying at the Western Wall. RNS photo by Michele Chabin

JERUSALEM — In a stunning reversal, a feminist Jewish prayer group said it will consider a government proposal to allow a mixed-gender prayer space at the Western Wall — but only after the government agrees to their conditions.

For 25 years, Women of the Wall has demanded access to pray at the sacred site that is home to the remnants of the Jewish Temple and is overseen by the Orthodox religious establishment. The group objects to the restrictions placed on them when they pray in the women’s section. They want to continue to pray in that section but will consider a compromise.

After a “comprehensive and emotionally trying decision-making process,” the group’s executive board on Monday overwhelmingly decided “to create a future in which, under the right conditions,” its members will pray “in an equal and fully integrated third section of the Kotel,” the Hebrew word for the Western Wall.

Women of the Wall has demanded the right to pray directly from a Torah scroll, wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries — practices and rituals that strict Orthodox Judaism reserves for men.

Jon Stewart at the 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards on September 20, 2009. Photo via RNS/courtesy Shutterstock

Yoo-hoo! Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart, Larry David! No matter how unreligious you comics may be, American Jews seem proud to claim you.

Well, mostly. You know the joke: Two Jews, three opinions…

But seriously: A sweeping new survey from the Pew Research Center, “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” finds humor is one of the main qualities that four in 10 of the nation’s 5.3 million religious and cultural Jews say is essential to their Jewish identity. The survey was released Tuesday.

Screenshot of T Mobile video featuring actors as William and Kate.

Screenshot of T Mobile video featuring actors as William and Kate.

A Royal Bris! A Royal Bar Mitzvah! Hanukkah at Buckingham Palace!

From the moment Prince William and Kate Middleton got engaged, a rumor ran happily through the Jewish blogosphere (and menacingly on many anti-Semitic websites): the couple’s progeny, the heir to the British throne, would be Jewish! And then, on July 22, a son was born — a Son of Israel!

Um, no.

Photo courtesy the Hebrew Charter School Center.

A classroom at the Hebrew Language Academy in Brooklyn, a public charter school. Photo courtesy the Hebrew Charter School Center

WASHINGTON — What’s one way to ensure that a new Hebrew-immersion public charter school isn’t a Jewish school? Hire a priest to run it.

Sela, which means “rock” or “foundation” in Hebrew, opens in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 19. As a public school, Sela may not teach or show preference to any religion. But the intimate connection between Hebrew and Judaism makes some people wonder whether the separation is truly possible.

The question is not just for Sela, but for the dozen or so other public Hebrew charter schools from Brooklyn, N.Y., to San Diego that have started since the first one opened in Florida in 2007. And more Hebrew language charters are in the design stage.

Making things even more complicated is Hebrew’s ties not only to Judaism but to Israel. When the Sela staff began naming classrooms for major cities in Israel this summer, the school’s executive director, Jason Lody, said there would be no class named after the disputed capital of Jerusalem.

“We want to be a public school of excellence,” Lody said. “We don’t want to be sidetracked by political conversations that don’t focus on getting our 4-year-olds ready for kindergarten.”

Photo courtesy RNS.

A car in Alexandria,Virginia was spray-painted with swastikas and “Jew” in bright yellow paint. Photo courtesy RNS.

The Anti-Defamation League’s study of anti-Semitism in the U.S. shows a 14 percent decrease in incidents during 2012, the second consecutive year of a downward trend.

Overall, the ADL counted 927 anti-Semitic incidents — including assaults, vandalism, and harassment — down from the 1,080 incidents reported in 2011. Abraham H. Foxman, the ADL’s national director, called the trend “encouraging.”

“While these numbers only provide one snapshot of anti-Semitism in America, to the extent that they serve as a barometer the decline shows that we have made progress as a society in confronting anti-Jewish hatred,” he said.

Photo courtesy Arkady Mazor/Shutterstock.com.

An envelope and postage stamp in honor of the 4th Maccabiah Games in Israel. Photo courtesy Arkady Mazor/Shutterstock.com.

More than 1,100 American Jewish athletes will be competing in the Maccabiah Games, known as the “Jewish Olympics” and held in Israel once every four years.

This year’s event, which begins July 18, brings together more than 9,000 athletes from 77 countries to compete in 38 sporting events. The American contingent is the largest visiting delegation.

The Maccabiah attracts well-known and lesser-known athletes. This year’s participants include swimmers Garrett Weber-Gale, who won gold medals in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, and Mirjam de Koning-Peper, one of three medal winners in the London 2012 Paralympics.

Corrie Mitchell 6-24-2013
Photo by Alex Martinez/Bravo / courtesy NBC

Long Island: Princesses, Season 1 cast, Photo by Alex Martinez/Bravo / courtesy NBC

Meet Amanda, Casey, Ashlee, Chanel, Joey, and Erica. They spend their time and their parents’ money shopping for designer labels, searching for rich husbands, and lounging by the pool with a glass of wine in hand.

They’re self-admitted “Jewish American Princesses,” and Bravo’s built a whole reality series, "Princesses: Long Island" around their exploits. The show follows six unmarried 20-something Jewish women living with their parents on New York’s Long Island. The first two episodes were titled “You Had Me at Shalom” and “Shabbocalypse Now.”

“Everybody has a stereotype of a Long Island Jewish girl,” cast member Ashlee White said on the show’s June 2 premiere. “People get so offended! I’m like, ‘Bring it.’ I’m Jewish, I’m American, and I’m a princess.”

And that’s where some Jews — and even some Long Islanders — have a problem.

Tom Ehrich 5-07-2013
discpicture / Shutterstock

Paper chain surrounding the globe. discpicture / Shutterstock

NEW YORK — I sat with my gospel choir colleagues, in a pew, while the host choir at Park Avenue Synagogue rehearsed a lovely Psalm setting in Hebrew.

Some sang the Hebrew text with ease, some with difficulty — a reminder that faith generally means learning a language other than one’s own.

After the synagogue choir sang in their other-language, we joined them to sing in our other-language: swaying to the beat, getting one’s body into the praise. They responded gladly, as our combined choirs rehearsed Richard Smallwood’s epic “Total Praise,” a setting of Psalm 121, which Christians and Jews share.

When two choirs from Park Avenue Christian Church and two choirs from Park Avenue Synagogue, plus some jazz musicians, performed Sunday, at a Psalms festival, we disrupted 2,000 years of animus between Christians and Jews. In the eyes of the creator God who made us all, we said, we are more alike than different, more connected than separated, more eager for shared faith than for separate and superior faith.

Many members and supporters of Women of the Wall pray with prayer shawls. RNS file photo by Michele Chabin

JERUSALEM — Women who want to wear prayer shawls while praying in the women’s section of the Western Wall are not breaking the law, according to a landmark decision handed down Thursday by the Jerusalem District Court.

Israeli police arrested five women on April 11 who were dressed in prayer shawls while praying with Women of the Wall, an activist group that prays at Judaism’s most sacred site once a month.

Immediately following those arrests, a lower court judge ruled that the women had not violated “local custom,” a legal concept intended to keep the fragile peace at holy sites. The Western Wall is a remnant of the Second Temple that was destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago.

Rabbi Gilles Bernheim (left) “borrowed” the work of others. Photo courtesy RNS.

Amid a finance scandal that touched the heart of France’s Socialist government, a quieter drama played out this month as the country’s top rabbi resigned his post after admitting to plagiarism.

Rabbi Gilles Bernheim offered his apologies for “borrowing” the work of others and lying about his academic credentials, ending a leadership crisis that has rocked the country’s 600,000-strong Jewish community, the largest in Europe.

Now, as the search begins for a new grand rabbi, questions are mounting about which direction the religious leadership will take — notably whether it will continue Bernheim’s move toward a more “modern” and perhaps more inclusive French Judaism, or return to a more inward-looking faith.

 

Shefa Siegel 2-11-2013

Leonard Cohen as irreverent master of prayer.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. RNS photo

Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, blasted Christian leaders for not speaking out against a recent spate of attacks.

Anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. dropped by 13 percent in 2011, according to a report released Nov. 1 by the Anti-Defamation League, which tracks assaults and other attacks on Jews.

There were 1,080 incidents against Jews last year, according to the ADL, the lowest tallied by the non-profit civil rights group in two decades.

“It is encouraging that over the past five or six years we have seen a consistent decline in the number of anti-Semitic incidents across the country and that the numbers are now at a historic low,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL's national director.

Omid Safi 10-05-2012

The racist, anti-Muslim ad in the New York Subway that used the language of civilized and savages has more than met its match.

A large group of Jews and Christians have countered that hateful message by tapping into the rich mines of neighborly love that are at the heart of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions.     

New ads by Rabbis for Human Rights , United Methodist Women, and Sojourners have tapped into the rich religious commandment to “love thy neighbor” to remind all of us to love our neighbors.

Respected news outlets unwittingly sent a lie around the world on Sept.12: a Jew backed by 100 Jewish donors made a film insulting Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Within a day, the lie unraveled. But the damage to the Jewish community had been done, and Jews will continue to suffer for it, say Jewish civil rights leaders. 

“This is another blood libel that’s in place,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, referring to a history of conspiracy theories that has fueled anti-Semitism for centuries.

Jeanie Groh 9-17-2012

The typical American underestimates how many Protestants there are in the U.S., and vastly overestimates the number of religious minorities such as Mormons, Muslims, and atheist/agnostics, according to a new study.

Grey Matter Research and Consulting asked 747 U.S. adults to guess what proportion of the American population belongs to each of eight major religious groups: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, atheist/agnostic, believe in God or a higher power but have no particular religious preference, and any other religious group. 

The average response was that 24 percent of Americans are Catholic, 20 percent are Protestant, 19 percent are unaffiliated, 8 percent are Jewish, 9 percent are atheist or agnostic, 7 percent are Muslim, 7 percent are Mormon and 5 percent identify with all other religious groups.  

Aly Raisman of Needham, Mass., won a gold medal on Tuesday in the women’s all-around gymnastics.

Americans cheered when Aly Raisman of Needham, Mass., won a gold medal on Tuesday in the women’s all-around gymnastics competition, but at least some American Jews likely cheered a little louder.

“For people who are part of a minority, to see one of your own have this international recognition gives you enormous satisfaction and pride,” said Rabbi Keith Stern of Temple Beth Avodah in Newton Centre, Mass., where Raisman has worshipped since childhood. “It lets you say, ‘Look at what we’ve managed to do.’”

Members of minority faiths in the U.S. — Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs — are rooting for U.S. Olympians and also saving a few extra cheers for their co-religionists, both Americans and athletes from other teams. Before they go to bed or when they wake up, they scan lists of medal winners and competition results, looking for names that might sound Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Sikh.

But why?

In a sense, religion isn't supposed to matter in who a fan roots for, said Harold U. Ribalow, author of three books about Jewish athletes, trying to answer that question. But, he added, the evidence was overwhelming that people like to see those from their own groups do well, especially in the root-for-the-underdog world of sports.

Image by Andresr /shutterstock.

Image by Andresr /shutterstock.

Choose carefully those with whom you surround yourself. Pay attention to that which you pursue with all your heart, all your soul and all your might -- and to what compromises you are willing to make in that pursuit. Make those compromises judiciously and with reflection, because when they all add up, you may realize that you’ve become someone you don’t recognize.

Who you will become is determined in large part not by what you acquire, but by what you give -- and how you give of yourself.

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